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Coaches Blog

Building a Bigger Engine: VO2Max (HIIT) Workouts

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

VO2Max: A person's maximum rate of oxygen consumption is their VO2Max. In other words, it is the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can deliver to the hard working muscles.

VO2Max workout : VO2Max is a type of HIIT workout (High Intensity Interval Training), consisting of an appropriate warm, up followed by a series of short, high intensity intervals, with a short recovery and always a cool down. These types of workouts are the best method to improve VO2Max.

Some endurance athletes choose to avoid VO2Max workouts. They use a few common excuses to validate their choice to omit High Intensity Interval Training from their training regimen.

  • I’m training for a Marathon (or IRONMAN), so my pace will be slow.

  • I’m not fast and don’t plan to do any track meets. So, I don’t need speed work.

  • Trying to run fast will cause injury, and I don’t want to get hurt.

  • Speed work is too hard, I can't do it.

My experience and training says that ALL endurance athletes will benefit from incorporating VO2Max workouts into their Annual Training Plan. VO2Max training has many benefits to your health and performance.

Here are some important benefits:

  • Increased stroke volume: This is the volume of blood the heart can pump with each beat

  • Increase capillary density.

  • Improve your body's ability to deliver oxygen to your muscles and remove waste from your muscles efficiently.

  • Improved muscle recruitment (Neuromuscular improvement): VO2Max workouts help train your brain to fire the correct muscles in the correct order to go faster and work more efficiently.

  • Improve form and running efficiency: Running hard will cause you to concentrate on proper form which leads to better running efficiency.

All of the above physiological improvements are building a bigger “engine”. When you have a bigger engine you will be able to go faster over short distances and you can perform more efficiently for a longer period of time at your desired pace.

Here are some parameters of good VO2Max, HIIT Workouts:

  • For the run, go hard for at least 30 seconds and up to 4 minutes, with an active recovery interval of equal length, up to a max recovery of 2 minutes.

  • For the bike, hard intervals should be between 2 minutes and 6 minutes with an equal active recovery time.

  • The number of intervals on the bike or the run during a HIIT workout varies, but the goal is to have a total of 10 to 30 minutes of “hard” effort.

  • HIIT workouts should be done on a track or flat surface.

What would be considered a “hard” interval? Intervals should be done in the upper Zone 5 region. This means to go as hard as you can go at a constant speed for that interval's duration.

These intervals are lung busters! You should be breathing extremely hard at the end of each interval. A lot of athletes tend to go at a more moderate pace throughout the “hard” intervals and then a slightly slower pace for the recovery. It can take some time for some athletes to gain enough confidence to really push to the limit of their ability, run hard and also allow themselves to use active recovery at a much easier pace.

Active recovery can include walking at the beginning of the recovery proportion of the interval. If you pushed as hard as you should during the “Hard” interval, walking for a short period during the recovery to catch your breath is ok.

It is important to jog easily for the remainder of the recovery portion of the interval. The same holds true with bike intervals. It's ok to coast for a bit right after a hard effort, but begin to soft pedal for the remainder of the rest interval. In other words, do an active recovery with an easy effort.

Examples of VO2Max workouts would be:

Beginner Athlete

  • Warmup

  • 5 intervals of 30 seconds hard and 30 seconds easy

  • Easy 4 minute recovery

  • Repeat 5 intervals of 30 seconds hard and 30 seconds easy

  • 5 minute cool down

Intermediate Athlete:

  • Warmup

  • 5 intervals of 3 minutes hard and 2 minutes easy

  • 5 minute cool down

All athletes, regardless of ability, will see improvements by adding VO2Max workouts to their training. In fact, less experienced athletes will see large improvements fairly quickly. Athletes at every fitness level should still take care when adding VO2Max workouts to the training schedule. Adding VO2Max workouts too soon or too aggressively can result in injuries, especially in new athletes.

NOTE: Any athlete who begins to feel an injury starting or has excessive soreness should suspend VO2Max workouts until the injury or soreness is resolved.


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